In which Gard’s young men test their tolerance of paing against the black knight and a young man takes his first step toward destiny…

The Duels Begin

The next day was full of gossip and speculation as to who the Black Knight was. Some thought it was a vampire come to take revenge on the town for the death of Count Lycon. Others believed he was just a man in an outfit and that the only great quest he was on was one for attention. Miss Crabtree, the town gossip, told her friends that she believed it was one of the militia’s cadets pulling an immature prank. Unfortunately when it came to Miss Crabtree (despite her usually being wrong) the wives of Gard always took her version to be fact. Whatever the explanation answers were about to be discovered that night…or so they hoped.

“I’m going to bring that knight to the center of town tied like a beast” Christopher boasted to his friends and the town’s gentry.

Thessaly too was feeling the anticipation of the day. She couldn’t go anywhere without somebody coming up to her saying that her “boyfriend” was the going to be the savior of the town. She smiled and nodded though the thought made her sick. She didn’t know what was worse, people thinking Christopher the town savior or having him referred to as her “boyfriend.” She came home that afternoon hoping to get away from the attention surrounding Christopher. She entered her home and threw herself onto her bed dreaming she was a bird so she could fly away from her troubles. Unfortunately that peace didn’t last long.

“Get up. Get up.” Margaret pestered “You’re going to be late”

“For what?” She asked groggily

“To see Christopher off. Surely you remember that the women always see the soldiers off to battle.”

Thessaly remembered; she just wanted an excuse not to go. She did not want Christopher to cause a scene by announcing an engagement not yet agreed upon. She also didn’t want to see the town ladies feeding his ego as went out to confront some mysterious drifter.

“Mom. How do you think the town will react if Christopher loses?” she asked.

“Thessy, you mustn’t think like that. Christopher is the best man to face this knight. Who else is brave enough or strong enough to stand against it?” Mrs. Rose asked Thessaly. In her heart she had an answer. Michael… she thought to herself.

*********************************************************************

Michael was in his kitchen making a soup and trying to prevent Biff from jumping into the kettle.

“Stay down!” he ordered but the dog didn’t listen “it’ll be ready soon enough.” Biff pouted.

“Hey, there’s no need for that” he scolded the dog “Besides its too hot for you”

Michaels Mother entered the kitchen carrying a couple of vegetables that she had just picked up at the market.

“I see you’ve taken care of dinner” she commented. “Why are you still here? Aren’t you going to wish Christopher good luck?” she asked.

“Actually I was feeling a bit under the weather. So I thought it’d be better if I stayed in and made some chicken soup to feel better.” He answered, lying through his teeth. The truth was he didn’t want to see Christopher getting all the praise. He especially didn’t want to do was see Christopher and Thessaly together. He didn’t want to see Christopher use his newfound fame to propose to Thessaly in public and force her into a marriage she didn’t want. Especially when this was his opportunity to prove he was worthy of her hand.

“Don’t lie to your Mother!” Margaret scolded. “You don’t want to go down there because Christopher’s in the lime light and could use that to profess his love for Thessaly. Am I not correct?” she pressed.

“She’s Good” Michael thought to himself as he got a bowl and poured himself some soup.

“I’m right aren’t I?” she pressed further.

“You’re good” Michael answered between spoonfuls “how did you know?”

“A Mother knows her son.” She sat beside him and grasped his hand. “Look, I know how you feel about her Michael. You can’t hide that from me and I know that you don’t think its fair that her parents want her to be with him and not you. Sometimes when things are at their worst it can only mean that good times are coming. Maybe Christopher will grow tired of Thessaly and find someone else or some new girl might come into your life that will swoop you off your feet or maybe you’ll perform a miracle so great that your reputation will spread far and wide and the Roses will be more than happy to let you have their daughter’s hand. You just don’t know.” She tried reassuring him.

“Mom that speech used to work when I was six, but not now. Don’t tell me you really believe all that?” Michael sarcastically responded.

“Your right I don’t.” She sarcastically retorted back “Just like your birth was always meant to happen after a few failures. Right? Everyone said I couldn’t have a child but eventually after hoping and praying I did.”

“I’m your miracle right?” Michael asked his mother already knowing the answer.

“You’ve been listening to me all these years!” his mother jovially answered kissing the top of his head; to her he was a miracle. “Now get down to the square and wish your comrade luck. If you don’t your father and Sir Francis may give you scrubbing duty.”

“Yes ma’am” he waved goodbye to his mother and Biff, who had just burnt his tongue on the soup.

Thessaly arrived at the tail end of Christopher’s speech. The only parts she heard were about how no evil would hold him back and how he would vanquish it and other pre- battle mish mash. She was uninterested until she caught sight of Michael. They smiled and made faces at each other making fun of Christopher. Then Christopher caught sight of Thessaly.

“My lady” Christopher bid her while offering his hand. She took it reluctantly. “Would you be so kind as to bless me with your kiss?” She closed her eyes and kissed him. Upon opening her eyes Michael was gone.

Michael knew that Christopher didn’t have a chance at beating this knight. It would take a miracle for Christopher to win, “what if he does beat the knight?” his mother’s words about miracles happening echoing in his head. “I would never be able to win Thessaly,” he kept saying to himself. He tried to banish the thoughts from his head but the more he did the more the greater they were. His heart started to ache with worry.

“Where you going there son?” a familiar voice asked from behind.

“Home dad.” he somberly responded.

“What’s wrong?” Arthur asked his son.

“Oh. Nothing.” He answered distantly.

“No, there’s something wrong. You want to tell me what the problem is so I can try to give you some form of guidance or do you want continue being miserable?” He put his arm around his son’s shoulder.

“Its just…I thought that with the arrival of this knight I had an opportunity to prove myself to the Roses and win Thessaly’s hand but instead he chose to face Christopher over me simply because he spoke up first.”

“And you think you’ve lost your one and only chance to win her.” Arthur finished, “Tell me, what makes you think that Christopher is going to win this duel?”

“I don’t know. I was just remembering one of Mom’s speeches about miracles happening.”

“Why do you burden yourself with worries about what hasn’t happened yet my son? Has Christopher come back in victory yet? No, he hasn’t. You do yourself no good thinking about what might happen. You have to live for the moment. The only thing you should think about is how you’re going to beat this knight when it’s your turn. You are going to beat him, right?” He asked his son sternly.

“He doesn’t have a chance!” Michael answered with renewed spirit.

“That’s my boy.” he patted his son on the shoulder. “We better be getting back, your mother has dinner cooking and I hear it’s a good soup.”

*

Christopher Returns

Mistress Dusk’s shroud brought night and the townsfolk wondered what had become of Christopher. The sound of hooves beating against the ground echoed through the woods getting louder and closer by the second. The Black Knight had returned with Christopher tied across the horses back. The Knight stopped and tossed Christopher into the middle of the crowd.

“If this is the best your town has to offer, a small gang of Halflings could conquer your town. Will anyone else care to prove me wrong? How about you!” the knight pointed to Anthony Winchester, son of Abe Winchester the town miller. “Tomorrow night sundown be there lest you are a coward!” the knight taunted and galloped into the night.

*

The Challenge Continues

The next day Anthony rode out to face the knight. A short while later he came back tied to the front of the Black Knights horse. This went on for about a week with young men going off and coming back in defeat.

On Friday, Michael was at The River ‘Ale, enjoying a couple of pints with Andrew, Claudius, and Charles. Vincent was the first of their circle of friends to take the knights challenge, which was happening as they spoke.

“You think Vin’s gonna beat him?” Claudius asked everyone.

“He’s probably going to get the worst beating off them all. Knowing him he’s probably gonna resort to throwing rocks.” Charles answered.

“Or is he gonna get curious with the horse and get trampled by it or will he inadvertently be responsible for its escape?” Andrew asked sarcastically.

“Boys, Vince might not be the one to beat the knight but he’s certainly gonna be the one to irritate him the most.” Michael threw in and they raised a cheer to Vincent.            The tavern was bustling with speculation about the knight’s identity.

“I heard its one of them spirits cursed to wander for eternity and stealing the souls of the fallen.” One man said.

“I heard it’s an elf. Glassman’s boy said he fought with the speed and strength of elf magic,” said another.

“I think it’s a fairy”

“Oh pish posh its probably that old Geldolf causing trouble again. You know how he is.”

“Ahhhhhhhhhh, alls ya’s shwrong” he shouted inebriated to the tavern “its one of them………um…ahh………its one of dem ladies from dat island off Tokuma come to conquer the land of men” Dougie shouted from atop a table.

“Dougie, your priceless” Phillip the owner of The River ‘Ale complimented his favorite customer. Everyone else went about they’re business until Miss Crabtree barged in.

“The Knight is back! The Knight is back!” She shouted hysterically. In the blink of an eye the tavern was emptied. Michael and his friends pushed their way to the front of the crowd where Vincent lay unconscious beneath the Knights horse.

“This fool thought he could catch me off guard with a childish contraption” the Knight declared throwing Vincent’s slingshot on top of him.

“Looks like the Knight doesn’t find Vin amusing.” Andrew muttered.

“So…who’s next? How about…”

“Me!” Michael spoke up “I’ll go. Dover Hill dusk tomorrow I’ll be there.”

“You’re impetuous young one. But I like that, I like that. Tomorrow at dusk. Be there.” And with that the Knight rode off.

“Good luck buddy” Andrew patted his friends soldier.

“Don’t go down too quickly” Charles ragged.

“Hey. I don’t see you volunteering” Michael shot back.

“I’m not suicidal.”

Michael ran home excitedly.

Copyright ã 2008 Todd Matthy

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